The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (DICWC) has called on all parties contesting the federal election to commit to the establishment of a Custody Notification Service in each state and territory.
The NSW Custody Notification Service (CNS) — the only CNS operating in Australia — is a 24-hour legal advice and RU OK phone line for Aboriginal people taken into police custody. Significantly, there have been no Aboriginal deaths in police custody in NSW since the CNS was introduced in 2000.
The NSW CNS was introduced via legislation to implement the relevant recommendation of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It requires police to directly give notice to the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) at the point when an Aboriginal person is first taken into police custody. The person in custody then receives early legal advice from an ALS lawyer to ensure their fundamental legal rights are respected.
Chairperson of the DICWC Bruce Campbell said: “In Western Australia, the [Colin] Barnett government's proposed Custody Notification Service is not a Custody Notification Service — it does not require police to give notice to the WA ALS when they have an Aboriginal person in custody.
“Instead it puts a person who is in custody in contact with the Aboriginal Visitors Scheme.”
Contact with the ALS provides an early opportunity to determine if the person does not need to be incarcerated and can remain in the community, hence removing the risk of dying in custody.
“The emphasis must always be on not unnecessarily detaining persons in police custody,” Campbell said. “Given that it has been 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, implementing a true ALS-linked CNS system across all states and territories, which will greatly decrease the likelihood of Aboriginal people dying in custody, is long overdue.”
The NSW CNS is a cost-effective program, which simply links the person in custody with the existing NSW ALS. The DICWC calls on all states and territories to implement a CNS so that any Aboriginal person held in police custody is directly put in contact with the ALS in that state or territory.